Monday, December 7, 2009

The Creation Story

Michael Fong
Journal #21 The First Americans
December 7, 2009

"When he [the good mind] had made the universe he was in doubt respecting some being to possess the Great Island; and he formed two images of the dust of the ground in his own likeness, male and female, and by his breathing into their nostrils he gave them the living souls, and named them Ea-gwe-howe, i.e., a real people; and he gave the Great Island all the animals of game for their maintenance and he appointed thunder to water the earth by frequent rains, agreeable of the nature of the system; after this the Island became fruitful and vegetation afforded the animals subsistence." (The Iroquois Creation Story 20)

"Though David Cusick was one of the first Iroquois to record the oral literature of his nation in the alphabetic writing of Western civilization, contemporary Iroquois do not necessarily receive his work with praise. For instance, Seneca-Wyandot scholar Barbara A. Mann points out that Cusick inserted missionary interpretations of Iroquois creation stories into the text of his Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations." (From Finding a place for David Cusick in Native American literary history - Susan Kalter)

The above quote is from David Cusick's rendition of the Iroquois Creation Story at the part where the "good mind" creates humans, and the world as we know it to be. It also relates how the "good mind" gave rein to the humans to have control over the world that he created.

I was struck initially by the marked similarities between the Iroquois Creation Story and the Genesis of the Bible. The parallels are so unmistakable that passages between the two could be easily interchanged. God breathes upon Adam to give him life; the "good mind" does that too. God gave humans free rein of the earth and its living things; again the "good mind" did the very same thing. Even the fall of mankind is subtly hinted in the later parts of the story, where the "evil mind" was deemed to be responsible for the creation of reptiles.

The question remains now is that whether David Cusick, as suggested by Susan Kalter, inserted Christian interpretations of the myth and presented it to us modern readers in that fashion. Such undertakings are not completely of in history. For instance, there was a similar issue with Beowulf, where messages with Christianity connotations were inserted throughout the poem to the point that some question whether the poem was constructed by more than a single poet, or whether it was modified later by other individuals with the agenda to spread Christianity. It would be indeed be interesting to obtain the copy of the original myth for comparison to see how Cusick made modifications, if any, to the contents.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christopher Columbus

Michael Fong
Journal #20 Christopher Columbus
December 1, 2009

"I came to serve at the age of twenty-eight years, and now I have not a hair on my body that is not gray, and my body is infirm, and whatever remained to me from those years of service has been spent and taken away from me and sold, and from my brothers, down to my very coat, without my being heard or seen, to my great dishonor. It must be believed that this was not done by your royal command...I did not sail upon this voyage to gain honor or wealth; this is certain, for already all hope of that was dead. I came to Your Highnesses with true devotion and with ready zeal, and I do not lie." (Columbus 34-35)

"So Columbus said, somebody show me the sunset and somebody did and he set sail for it,
And he discovered America and they put him in jail for it,
And the fetters gave him welts,
And they named America after somebody else." (Ogden Nash - Wikiquote)

In an attempt to clear his name and restore his reputation, Columbus wrote the letter to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, seeking pardon from the charges made against him at the time. He was ultimately successful, as Ferdinand went forth with the pardon, as the royal couple restored Columbus subsequently with his wealth as well as freedom.

The difference between this particular letter to Ferdinand and Isabella could not have been more different with the letter to Luis de Santangel regarding the first voyage. Every phrase and every word used in the letter all point to the desperation that Columbus held when he was writing it. I myself was brought up with the idea that Columbus was the virtuous and fearless voyager who discovered America, so to be brought to face the darker side of Columbus was, at first, extremely strange to me.

Nash's quote had a tone of pity and defense for Columbus, as he lamented the fate that Columbus was met with, a fate that he took to be unfair given the immense significance of the discovery that Columbus made. I beg to differ. One should always judge an individual on every episode of his life, and not just selective moments. What about Columbus' atrocities in the West Indies? What about the violent bloodshed and torture that he put to use during his brief stint as governor? Although those charges were never proven, it casts doubt and shadow over Columbus' character. This much could be said though, that we should never herald Columbus as the perfect, moral voyager as history books still present to our generation nowadays.